Japanese trio Boris has taken the vanguard of experimental metal through a balance of deafening heaviness and delicate meditations. The band is known for the former, but cuts like “The Sinking Belle” and “Resonance”—from collaborative albums with Sunn O))) and Merzbow—emphasize a more ethereal approach. This contrast runs deep on Boris’s 25th LP. The first fruit of a new partnership with Third Man Records, double album LφVE & EVφL uses seismic drone metal and melodic dreamscapes to illustrate two sides of the same coin.
With hypnotic bass arpeggios, an ethereal beat and angelic singing, “Away from You” eases into a buoyant tale of love and longing. The words take hold of the minimalist arrangement, painting a heartfelt picture of star-crossed lovers as cascading tremolo picking shimmers over the sonic horizon. It’s closer to Sigur Rós’ () than the band’s drone metal wheelhouse, but “Coma” comes in with the seismic goods.
All of a sudden, its masse clear once again why Sunn O))) wanted to work with this band. Boris’ ambient power has a more spacious dimension than that of Steven O’Malley and Greg Anderson. “Coma” comes off like an apocalyptic take on Eluvium’s Talk Amongst the Trees, with ghostly voices emanating through a wall of euphoric volume worship.
However, the feedback-laden death march “Uzume” is more of a patience testor. Drone metal hinges on the riffs being good enough to merit that repetition and that slow of a tempo. In this case, Boris’ attention to nuance within these blown-out circumstances give direction to amorphous heaviness. It might take a few cycles to piece together the sluggish motif, but it’s worth the weight.
The fact “EVOL” appears in LφVE and “LOVE” in EVφL, exhibits Boris’ perspective on how the two concepts coincide with one another.
The former makes use of visceral tribal percussion and riffing only to settle into soothing ambiance. The trio’s chemistry is on full display, as it gracefully transitions between dynamic extremes. This makes the song’s second explosion that much more cathartic. The passionate vocal performances and uplifting chord progressions may bring a post-metal Smashing Pumpkins to mind as it crashes into its monolithic guitar strains and field recordings.
The latter cut merits comparisons to labelmates Sleep as a fuzzed-out dirge. The relative simplicity necessitates more input from the vocals, which enhance the song’s witchy, skin-crawling feel. It might seem like the two songs’ distinct feels should be reversed, but a more thoughtful appraisal reveals how both songs bridge sonic extremes and rapturous songwriting.
As longtime fans should expect, Boris’ expansive music doesn’t escape the confines of a trio playing music together. The skeletal sonics of “In The Pain(t)” most clearly exhibit the band’s ability to do a lot with a little. Within a limited palette of E-bowed guitar swells, cymbal rolls and well-placed low-end support, the song incorporates what sounds like a person treading through snow.
The band’s cohesion becomes much more important when the volume skyrockets on closer “Shadow of Skull.” Subtle tone manipulations allow the tortured wails to cut through the mix like a horror movie jump-scare. While surprisingly melodic at its core, the song is too slow for head-banging. Drums serve more for accents than a groove and the melodies guide the soundscape rather than provide hooks. Even so, the emotive depth of the song is one that overarches over this album as a whole.
LφVE & EVφL provides a tumultuous voyage through the Yin and Yang of the human interaction. As dissonance requires intonation, drone-metal requires the deep breath of pleasant ambient rock. Though it does a great job of contrasting these two sides, the real moments of clarity come with the complete coin. Boris’ ability to synthesize dread and grace keep it relevant and engrossing after 27 years.